Review: Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal (PC)

cover 02Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games / LucasArts
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 07/07/09

The latest in the Monkey Island series, Tales of Monkey Island marks the return of some of its former creators to the game, but does it contain the magic and fun of the first games in the series and does it grab you to want to continue playing beyond the first chapter?

Story
Considering this game is an adventure game, story is one of the biggest components to it. As the first chapter in a five chapter game, this one really lays the ground work for what’s going to be going on in subsequent chapters in the game. It starts off with our hero Guybrush Threepwood pursuing his arch-nemesis LeChuck who has kidnapped Elaine and is STILL intent on marrying her after he has done some nefarious things with some monkey’s he’s captured. Guybrush has the recipe to send LeChuck to the deep and in typical bumbling fashion manages to screw that up and tries to improvise which ends up making LeChuck human and making Guybrush’s hand go all spazzy with some kind of curse. Some of the gunpowder on Elaine’s boat blows up and blows Guybrush off the boat and he ends up waking up on a whole new island with no sign of Elaine or LeChuck.

elaineposeYou come to find out that there is no real escape from this new island as the wind is only blowing in one direction and there’s only one ship here, the Screaming Narwhal. But that’s not going to stop our hero Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate from trying to escape Flotsam Island. So the bulk of the action is spent proving yourself a capable pirate to your first real contact there, a newspaper reporter looking for new stories who is also hiding another font of information for you, his contact known only as Deep Gut. Yeah, they went there. There is an interesting cast of new characters to interact with and lots of puzzles to work around. I highly recommend trying to sacrifice one of the pirate action figures you can filch on one of the alters on the island or try to make a wish in the well. The results are rather comedic.

Story Rating: Classic

Graphics
This game in the series has made the leap to 3D and I’d love to say it’s welcome. While it captures most of the look that I liked from Curse of Monkey Island, the low-polys in the character meshes are really hurting what could have made this a fantastically visual game. Previous and much older games like Jak and Daxter have proven you can do the cartoon look and not detract from the visual appeal of the game. This one needed a bit more work.

The backgrounds and environments are really well done and are visually appealing and do their job well. My main problem is when they bring the camera in for the character interactions, the character faces just look mangled a bit. Not every character mind you, but you can really see it in the eyes of your character and in the edges of other character faces. It’s distracting and I think a few more polys really wouldn’t have hurt performance of the game that much.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

Sound
talesofmi_flotsamThere are times in this game where the sound doesn’t quite match up with the sync on the lips, but after a camera change or two they match up again, kind of like the sound starts before the actual scene plays out and then the scene plays catch-up. It can be a little distracting but after a bit you don’t notice it as much.

The character voices are fantastically done and really bring this game to life and suck you in. The dialogue is really well written and fits each of the characters. There is music to the game but it’s not that memorable. One place where the game makes some good use of sound is a few of the puzzles in the game where you have to follow a map based off the animal sounds you hear in different entrances to areas.

Sound Rating: Good

Control and Gameplay
The controls in this game are very simple. You can move around with the keyboard or mouse, point and click on objects with the mouse, drag items in your inventory to interact with other objects with your mouse, and in a few instances you’ll have to use the keyboard to arrange certain objects to escape. Simple, but effective.

Gameplay pretty much follows what you’d expect from an adventure game. Wander around, talk to people, pick up objects and figure out how they fit into certain puzzles, if at all. There are a few instances where they change camera angles which make it a bit difficult to figure out where you’re supposed to be going, but the environments are usually detailed enough where it isn’t that much of a problem. You do have several dialogue options with the differing characters you meet, but other than revealing different parts of the story or backstory for the characters it really doesn’t change the interactions thereafter, so you can be as much of a jerk as you like if that’s how you want to play it.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

talesofmi101_guybrush-lechuck_lowresReplayability
While this was a ton of fun, subsequent playthroughs will be faster and easier which might cut down on the fun for some players. That and you can’t really skip some of the more inane dialogue (or at least I couldn’t figure out how when I was playing the first chunk over again). Really the only reason to play this over again is for the amusing dialogue and puzzles as there’s nothing really to collect here. This is fine for people who like these games, but won’t be for the people who have to unlock everything.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

Balance
The game starts out with a few interesting puzzles and they do get more complex as you go along, needing more and more things from different parts of the game and making you employ them in rather, unique, ways. The biggest letdown was the very end portion of this chapter as it wasn’t too hard to figure out and fairly short. Again, this is only the first chapter in a five chapter collection. Not having the other chapters to gauge with yet, I’m guessing it’ll take most people just over 10 hours to beat all of it, with this one going about two and a half hours for me. It’s very reasonable for the overall price they want, plus you get a collector’s Edition DVD when all is said and done.

Balance Rating: Great

Originality
While this game is a nice addition to the series, and this is really the first time it’s been episodic, there isn’t much that’s original here. You’re still dealing with the overall main villain, the same hero, his wife, and a few other pop-ups from previous games. Sure there’s new puzzles and a new island, but most of what I was seeing was borrowed or a parody of other things, like the U-Tube and the main characters hand getting possessed which has been done by Evil Dead 2 and Idle Hands before, but this is a bit less gruesome. I did keep expecting to see the Farewell to Arms joke pop up but it never did. We’ve also seen zombie pirates become human before more recently with the Pirates of the Caribbean films. So while this has a fresh new spin it’s mostly things I’ve seen before. And again, it’s a sequel, so, um, yeah.

Originality Rating: Mediocre

talesofmi101_idol_lowresAddictiveness
Shortness aside, this game does suck you in even when you’re frustrated because you’re missing something obvious about the current puzzle that’s staring you in the face. When I actually got down to play this game it was a fast two and a half hours, but it was the only thing going on and I didn’t really take a break from it until those end credits rolled. Then I wanted more.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

Appeal Factor
The first installment of a monthly game that manages to capture the fun and quirkiness of the earlier Monkey Island games and a really decent price for all five chapters? Yeah, I’d put this up there on the want list. It’s fun, fast paced and it seems each chapter can be easily completed in an afternoon. Add to that it’s fairly family friendly and has a bit of depth for all ages and I could see this gracing many computers and soon.

Appeal Factor Rating: Classic

talesofmi_uhohMiscellaneous
Glitchy game? Not really. I had one instance where it crashed on loading and that was when I first installed it, but that was another program causing an issue and not the game itself. Other than the sound not syncing up in some of the cutscenes I didn’t have any problems with the game glitching which is a breath of fresh air in a PC title. I don’t think there’s been one I’ve reviewed yet that didn’t have something broken with it. Granted the gameplay is a bit simpler than most, but with a PC title you’re looking at a ton of configs to account for. This game was also a ton of fun to review and play, something developers sometimes forget to include when they’re putting all those bells and whistles into it.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic

The Scores
Story Rating: Classic
Graphics Rating: Enjoyable
Sound Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay Rating: Great
Replayability Rating: Mediocre
Balance Rating: Great
Originality Rating: Mediocre
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
Appeal Factor Rating: Classic
Miscellaneous Rating: Classic
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Gaming Rexes are sad! While some people might have some mis-givings about this new installment of the Monkey Island series, this game delivers on the fun and quirkiness of earlier titles. While the transition to full 3D has left a few rough spots in the visuals, the game plays smooth and being the first chapter of a five chapter game I was left wanting to play more. For a decent price, you get all five chapters starting with this one and another chapter each month plus a DVD version at the end that you’ll just have to pay shipping for. Not a bad deal at all.

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